I read some books during the read-a-thon, and now it was weeks ago. In my defence I have been working a lot, including my Sundays in the cage (the cage no longer looks like a cage since the renovation of the office, but it is still referred to as the cage.)
Michael Marshall Smith's book 'Only forward' was quite a change of genre for me, and a thoroughly engaging and surreal one. Set in a future where a massive city extends from shore to shore; it is divided into autonomous neighbourhoods each with their own very distinct 'personalities', some keep themselves separate by high walls while others have a more open access policy. Our hero Stark is hired to search for a missing person, and finds himself breaking into one particularly isolated neighbourhood, the North Korea of the story. Mixed in with the main plot is the story of how Stark and his friend ended up in this world in the first place, with an amusing little twist at the end. It is well plotted and engaging written, and I can see it would make a great film.
Here Stark is in Natsci, finding his way around with an interactive map:
"All in all, I was a stressed little bundle of fun as I tramped down a variety of streets to one of the Neighbourhood's residential areas, guided by the quiet promptings from the map. I stopped off at a newsagents to pick up some more cigarettes and scanned a copy of Centre News to see if there was any mention of Alkland's disappearance, but the whole thing as clearly still under wraps. Back on the streets I tossed my old packet away and a nearby catcher droid made an astounding leap to take the catch three inches off the ground.
'Nice one,' I said.
'Got any more?' asked the machine enthusiastically, scooting up close to my feet. It was a little metal cylinder with a flashing red light on the top, and had a spindly metal arm with a tiny mitt at the end.
I rooted in my pockets.
'Don't think so.'
'Go away, droid,' said the map, irritably.
I found an old matchbox and held it out.
'Brilliant! Go on, chuck it really hard,' the droid said, poised for action.
I spun the matchbox down the street and the droid zipped after it. It was touch and go, but with another full-length dive the machine managed to get its mitt to it. It waved and then sped off down the street towards a leaf falling about a hundred yards away. Two other droids got there at the same time and there was an audible clang as they made contact, but one of them got it and went bouncing off down the street, waving the leaf triumphantly above its head." (p.211-12)
Barbara Comyns is on my 101 books list, but it was 'Our Spoons came from Woolworths' that I found in the charity shop. It is a 1930s tale of love and struggle for a young woman Sophia, based on Barbara's own marriage. She is this wonderful naive character, who is taken advantage of by a wastrel husband, but who has surprising reserves of strength and resilience. I liked her. The book reminded me very much, stylistically, of Cold Comfort Farm.
Here are her thoughts on contraception:
"After about three months I forgot about feeling sick, but the baby weighed on my mind quite a lot. Before I married Charles I used to hope I would have masses of children. I thought it would be nice always to have at least one baby and quite a number of older children all developing in their individual ways, but before we got married Charles told me he never wanted to have any children, and I saw they would not fit in with the kind of life we would lead, so I just hoped none would come to such unsuitable parents - anyway, not for years. I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said 'I won't have any babies' very hard, they most likely wouldn't come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong." (p.26)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge published The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798 and it has certainly stood the test of time. This version is illustrated with wonderful atmospheric drawings by Mervyn Peake.
Here, the moment when the ghostly ship comes alongside:
"Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was a white as leprosy,
The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
The naked bulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
'The game is done! I've won! I've won!'
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.
The Sun's rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o'er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.
We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman's face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip -
Till climb above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.
One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.
Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard not sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one." (Part Three)